Know Your Support Options: Microsoft Dynamics AX Partners Refine Post-Install Service Packages – MSDynamicsWorld.com
Like many mid-sized business that run Microsoft Dynamics AX, Clever Devices, a New York-based designer of technology solutions for public transportation systems, needs to manage many diverse aspects of their system. Needs come up at different times that require a broad range of skills that the small in-house team can’t maintain.
Clever Devices needs access to a “diverse set of systems skills, but not a lot of any one thing,” says Lisa Wootton, the company’s Dynamics AX business system manager.
Once Dynamics AX, or any other complex information system, is up and running, the team that helped launch it typically moves on to other projects. In the case of outside consultants, the move is over to other clients. It is a logical next step for them, but it means those with the most system expertise and experience are often no longer available to answer questions, troubleshoot and handle maintenance and upgrades.
To remedy this support situation, some Dynamics partners now market ongoing post-installation support services. More than technical support, these plans are focused on providing the regular services that a Dynamics AX system requires but that might require specialized skills that some clients, especially small and mid-sized organizations, don’t keep on staff.
Wooten says Clever Devices found such a service plan to be the right fit for their needs,giving them access to the full range of system skills required to keep their AX system running – not just to fix it when something broke. The company went with a plan from ColumbusCare, the service offered through their long time Dynamics AX partner Columbus.
“We provide everything needed for ‘life after live'” says Maria Urdinarrain, team manager with ColumbusCare. Just as organizations assemble a team to launch a business solution, they often need a team to handle the work that arises after the system goes live, she points out.
“We’re not a help-desk,” she says. While some other companies may take an “if it’s broke, we’ll fix it” approach, that’s not the ColumbusCare model. Instead, it’s an ongoing, proactive service.
Hitachi Solutions has also stepped into this space with the launch of Live/AX earlier in 2015. The initiative was prompted by the leap in functionality in AX 2012, the latest version of the software, says Geoff Carter, program director. “Microsoft came out leaps and bounds ahead.” As a result, few companies possess the skill set they need to maintain and grow the system.
Live//AX provides clients with the skills they need to support and growth their business with Dynamics AX. Although any size organization is a potential client, Live//AX typically is a great fit for smaller and mid-sized organizations, Carter says. “They don’t have the investment in IT that larger companies do.”
Tailored for AX customers
After talking with a client to determine its needs, Hitachi assembles a team for its client, pulling from developers, functional experts, and other technical experts who can support, maintain, update or enhance the systems.
“It’s a three-person team dedicated to each company,” Carter says. The teams help clients “sustain and grow and get the most from AX. Moreover, clients receive contact information, including phone and email, for each member of their team. “You don’t call a person you don’t know,” he adds.
Clients also can log into a customer portal to enter issues and view the status of work items.
ColumbusCare, which has been in the market for about two years, provides clients with a dedicated team that also offers a mix of skills, Urdinarrain says. They can provide training and consulting, handle minor upgrades, and do a health check of the system every year or two, or when the business undergoes a dramatic change. They’ll review the system and check whether any changes to it are necessary.
When clients run into problems or simply need information, they can call on a ColumbusCare team member. Each member already will be familiar with the installation and have a relationship with the client.
“You get a team that takes care of you, that knows your business and knows you,” Undinarrain says. Clients don’t have to worry they’re sending emails or voicemails that land in a void without making it to the person who actually can provide the help or expertise they need.
ColumbusCare also customizes the offering for each client. “We’re not like, ‘you must buy A to get B.’ We really want clients to be happy,” Undinarrain says.
Like Clever Devices, many customers of ColumbusCare are existing clients of Columbus. “They know us and we know them,” Undinarrain says.
Costs and benefits
These services typically are available in tiers. As a company moves up the tiers, they gain more services, although at higher rates, of course. Live//AX, for instance, starts with the Bronze level, which offers 30 subscription hours per month for a monthly rate of $3,000. At the Gold level, clients pay $20,000 per month for 300 subscription hours.
ColumbusCare also offers three levels of service, although customers pay upfront for a yearly contract, Urdinarrain says. The fee is based on the number of users, as well as any customization.
With these models, the ongoing cost becomes predictable, and typically an operating expense. The services also allow companies access to broad consulting expertise, without having to bring on additional employees. “It gives us the security blanket we’ve needed,” says Wootton.